Ripton’s Harrington reaches for the sky in international mountain races

BAXTER HARRINGTON, REPRESENTING the U.S., keeps a few steps ahead of a Hungarian runner in a mountain race at the 2023 World Junior Skyrunning Championships in Italy at the beginning of the month. With 226 athletes from 31 countries, Harrington, a Ripton resident, placed 19th in one race and 25th in the other.

FONTE CERRETO, Italy — Ripton’s Baxter Harrington had some impressive results as he represented the United States at the 2023 World Junior Skyrunning Championships in Italy this month.

A rising senior at Middlebury Union High School, Harrington, 17, competed along with fellow Vermonters Heidi Haraldsen of Waterbury and James Underwood of Woodstock, in addition to 11 other American runners, among 226 athletes from 31 countries.

It was Harrington’s first experience as a runner on the international stage. The World Youth Skyrunning Championships consisted of two races; a Vertical Kilometer, or VK,  and a 15-kilometer Skyrace. The 3.8K VK race, run Aug. 4, stretched over rugged mountains with a vertical climb of 1,033 meters, with the highest elevation over 7,000 feet. The Aug. 6 Skyrace featured 1,300 meters of vertical climb.

Baxter finished 19th in the VK and 25th in the Skyrace. The Skyrace included the VK and another 10k over mountains and finished on steep downhills.

“I was happier with my VK, I don’t think the heat affected me as much as my Alaskan teammates,” Harrington said. “I bonked a little during the Skyrace, I just could not get enough fuel.”

The U.S. Youth Skyrunning Team is coached by Ripton resident Ryan Kerrigan, who in the winter coaches the Frost Mountain Nordic ski team at the Rikert Nordic Center, assisted by his father, John Kerrigan.

“It is tough racing overseas. You have to deal with the time change, changes in diet, language and culture,” Ryan Kerrigan said. “It was a great learning experience for Baxter.”

John Kerrigan said he and Ryan were pleased with Harrington’s attitude, performance and results.

“He finished in the top half of an elite field of runners,” John Kerrigan said. “All three Vermont kids seemed to perform better than most of our athletes from the Far West. I guess we just build them tougher in Vermont.”

The coaches said this skyrunning experience should prove to be a great prep for the fall high school cross country season.

USA TEAM MEMBERS James Underwood of Woodstock, left, and Ripton’s Baxter Harrington wrap themselves in the flag at the 2023 World Junior Skyrunning Championships in Italy early this month.

At the 2023 World Youth Championships on Gran Sasso in Italy, the 14 Americans had an impressive 6th place finish. Spain, host team Italy, Japan, Norway and Great Britain rounded out the top five.

Although the young American team did extremely well, they have a way to go to catch the Spanish, their coaches said. American youth runners train in isolation. Most of the young USA runners hail from the isolated parts of the country; the Chugachs of Alaska; the Wasatch, Tetons, Cascades and Sierras in the West; and the Green Mountains of Vermont. In most cases the first time they get to run with other young like-minded young mountain junkies is at the World Youth Championships.

The Spanish, Italians and Japanese train together year-round, and they have a paid staff of coaches and trainers. Spain has mountain academies with a skyrunning focus for high school age students. Japan brought five coaches, three masseuses and a medical doctor to the races this year.

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